Thursday, July 20, 2017

File this suit

I think I'm afeared the suit will jump me.
(Photo by Linda Vanderwerf)
My wife and I rolled up to Target Field for the Wednesday matinee against the Yankees. I expected to comment today about the game.

And there were plenty of things to comment about, and you can find comments elsewhere on the interwebs about Miguel Sano's homer and Jose Berrios' pitching and Zack Granite's first major league RBIs.

On the basis that it's better to give you something unique, some commentary you can't get anywhere else, an EXCLUSIVE, I instead offer for your contemplation this suit, available at the Majestic Clubhouse Store at Target Field for a mere $599. (ADDENDUM: I am told by somebody that the price tag I looked at was just for the suit coat.)

It caught my eye almost as soon as I entered, but my wife missed it until I pointed it out to her. She insisted that she had to get some photos of me with it. Then she told me after we got home to put one of those photos on social media. And the tweet and Facebook posts that resulted got, by my low standards, quite the response, including a threat by co-workers past and present to take up a collection to buy it for me.

I'm not worried; they work for the same employer I do, so they won't be able to come up with the scratch.

(Wandering off on a tangent: My Twitter account, @bboutsider, is mostly baseball; my Facebook account is mostly personal, and I typically decline friend requests that aren't people I have real-life interactions or pasts with. I've had a number of FB requests from people I don't know who I assume are interested because of the blog, and I nix them routinely. I'm just not social enough for social media. Let me assure those of you who fear you're missing out: anything baseball I put on Facebook will be on this blog and/or Twitter first and/or better.)

This suit is, obviously, quite the monstrosity, and I would be inclined to give a wide berth to anybody who actually wore the thing. You've heard of "dress for success"; this is more like "dress to distress." But as my nephew replied on Facebook, anybody who can afford to buy this suit can afford not to care what anybody else thinks.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Gee, Colon? Part 3 (and Hughes and Breslow)

Well, at least he threw strikes.

For four innings, the Bartolo Colon Experiment worked, He carved up the Yankee lineup with mediocre velocity coupled with location and movement, and with some good fielding plays behind him.

Then came the fifth, in which he got no outs, and in which Ryan Pressly did what Ryan Pressly has done pretty consistently all season: give up a homer. The 3-1 lead turned to a 6-3 deficit, and both bullpens put up zeros after that.

Yeah, the Twins had plenty of opportunities to score more runs, but you shouldn't hang your hat on allowing six runs.

Four earned runs in four innings won't do much for Big Sexy's already bloated ERA, but he'll get another start after throwing 53 strikes in 82 pitches. That will come against the Dodgers, who are doing unto the National League what the Astros are doing unto the American. He's not drawing cupcake assignments.

---

Despite the report Monday that Dillon Gee has been waived, he remains on the 40-man roster as of early this morning. The 40-man (and 25-man) roster spot for Colon came from putting Phil Hughes on the 60-day disabled list. He's done for the season with a recurrence of his thoracic outlet syndrome with another round of surgery in his near future. This is a discouraging development for Hughes personally, but doesn't really damage the team's outlook for the rest of the season, as he hasn't been very effective as a reliever.

Kennys Vargas was indeed optioned out, and Craig Breslow was returned to the 25-man roster from the disabled list. He got one out on Tuesday. Replacing Hughes in the 'pen with Breslow doesn't do much for me.

The roster maneuvers left the Twins roster in this condition: The game ended with Chris Gimenez on-deck waiting to pinch-hit for Eddie Rosario against Aroldis Chapman. I'm not really sure what the point of that move would have been ... yeah, Gimenez would have the platoon advantage, but I would too. I'd rather have Rosario against Chapman.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Gee, Colon? Part Two (plus Vargas)

Monday morning's post questioned the logic of giving tonight's start to Bartolo Colon over Dillon Gee.

The Twins doubled down on that decision, right or wrong, after Monday's game:




Cutting Gee fits the timing of his opt-out. The Twins clearly decided he wasn't a solution. Presumably the opt-out forced this resolution to his status.

That gets Colon on the 40-man roster. To get him on the 25-man active roster required another move:




This is the second time in two weeks they've optioned Vargas out. The first try ended early when Joe Mauer went on the DL. But Mauer returned Friday, and on Sunday Vargas's defensive frailities -- or at least one of them -- showed when the Astros twice ran on him.

Normally the quality of a first baseman's arm is immaterial. Steve Garvey, to name one prominent example, couldn't throw and wouldn't throw if he could possibly avoid it, but he was an outstanding defensive first baseman. I don't know that I've ever seen a first baseman's arm disregarded so throughly as was Vargas' on Sunday.

The interesting thing is that Vargas shows up pretty well in the publicly available defensive metrics. Both versions of runs saved shown on Baseball Reference have him, on a per-inning basis, as outperforming Joe Mauer.

Small sample size, to be sure. Vargas is NOT better with the glove than Mauer. And that Paul Molitor chose to pinch-hit Eduardo Escobar for him Monday night should say something about how his bat is playing.


Monday, July 17, 2017

Gee, Colon? A tale of two Mets refugees

The Twins signed Dillon Gee to a minor league deal with an opt-out on June 22. They brought him to the majors two days later and had him sit in the bullpen waiting for a long relief outing that never came, then optioned him to Rochester. The major league stint did not wipe out the opt-out.

Gee, who has made 125 major league starts, most of them with the Mets, has made three starts for Rochester, 15 innings in which he has not allowed a run. While an ERA of 0.00 is obviously impressive, his K/9 -- 4.8 -- is not. His opt-out window has arrived, but there is no indication that he has exercised it. He started Saturday for Rochester; his turn would come up Thursday.

While Gee has been in Rochester, the Twins signed the well-traveled Bartolo Colon to a minor-league deal. Gee's ex-Mets rotation mate made one start for Rochester in which he didn't get through the fourth inning.

Colon will nevertheless start Tuesday for the major league team. (The corresponding moves, to get Colon on the 40-man roster and onto the 25-man roster, have not been announced and probably won't be until Tuesday.)

Now ... I am obviously guilty here of scouting the stat line. I haven't seen either man pitch, and I haven't access to the spin-rate data and other metrics the front office has. There may well be reason for them to prefer Colon to Gee in their search for a fifth starter.

That reason is not apparent.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Pics of the week

Yadier Molina of the St. Louis Cardinals donned a special
gold chest protector

Josh Harrison of the Pittsburgh Pirates sported a pair
of deliberately mismatched All-Star socks.

Bruce Harper of the Washington Nationals wore spikes
that paid tribute to Jose Fernandez, the star pitcher of the
Miami Marlins who died last year in a boating accident.

A few fashion statements from the All-Star Game.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Contemplating Jorge Polanco

There isn't a lot of reason to praise Jose Berrios' pitching Friday night in Houston -- more than half his pitches missed the strike zone -- but the fact remains that five of the seven runs he allowed were unearned because of an error by Jorge Polanco.

Polanco's defense has deteriorated sharply since this post in late May, which quotes the founder of Baseball Info Systems as saying that Polanco had saved five runs with his defense to that point. Well, that same metric, available on Baseball Reference, now shows Polanco as having given back four of those five runs -- and as of this writing, that's not updated with Thursday's game.

My expectations for Polanco's defense at shortstop were not high coming into the season. I would have been pleased on Opening Day with league-average defense from him, and to this point that's close to what the Twins have received. But I also expected him to be a much more productive hitter than he's been. His OPS, .591, is even worse than that of Byron Buxton (.603), and he's 3-for-35 so far this month.

Deteriorating fielding, deteriorating hitting. That's not a good combination, especially with two other shortstops, Eduardo Escobar and Ehire Adrianza, on the roster.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Notes, quotes and comment

Bartolo Colon made what was presumably his sole minor-league tune-up start Thursday night for Rochester, the Twins' Triple A affiliate. His stat line was not particularly encouraging: 3.2 innings, 4 hits, 4 runs, 2 walks, 5 strikeouts. He threw 76 pitches.

Those determined to find a reason to believe can latch onto the strikeouts. I'm inclined to pay more attention to the walks, because Colon's success in recent years was based largely on the fact that he almost never walked anybody. His command was impeccable until this season. This year it has been emphatically peccable.

Still, the Twins roster lacks a fifth starter, and somebody's going to get called up to start Tuesday against the Yankees. Colon is lined up for that assignment. I expect him to get that start, and I expect him to get shelled.

I would also expect Felix Jorge to get shelled if he gets the start. It's not like the Twins are sitting on Clayton Kershaw. They have no good answers available.

---

The Chicago White Sox picked up another prospect haul Thursday by trading lefty-starter Jose Quintana to their North Side neighbors. The Sox got four minor leaguers, including current Baseball America coverboy Eloy Jimenez and pitcher Dylan Cease.

Quintana is a quality pitcher, and he's under team control for several more seasons; that's the kind of asset any organization would value, and I'm sure the Twins would have loved to land him. But they do not have any prospects as highly regarded as Jimenez, a power-hitting outfielder, and their best pitching prospects are roughly comparable to Cease. 

The Sox farm system is getting pretty stocked up with the returns of the Adam Eaton, Chris Sale and Quintana trades. If their player development system gets this right, they figure to be mighty tough around 2020.

---

Baseball's back today from the All-Star break, and hooray for that.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Nick Gordon vs. Royce Lewis vs. Wander Javier

Away back last Sunday, Nick Gordon, the Twins' sole representative in the Futures Game, started at shortstop and hit leadoff for Team USA. He went 1-for-3 with a run scored.

There's a debate over whether Gordon, who is having what appears to be a typical Gordon season at Chatanooga, is still the organization's top prospect. Royce Lewis, taken 1/1 by the Twins about a month ago, outranks him in the estimate of some. But Gordon is considerably closer to the majors.

I'm not ready to take a position on this, partly because it's unclear to me what position either will take in the majors when their times come. I'd vote for the one who plays shortstop in the majors, and there is no consensus that either will stick at shortstop.

Gordon is hitting .298/.366/.448 in Double A; he's hit six homers, which is more as he hit in his previous three minor league seasons combined. His slugging percentage is some 70 points higher this year. That might represent growth; it might be more about the difficulty of hitting in Hammond Stadium in particular and the Florida State League in general. It's a pitcher's league.

Lewis is hitting .340/.426/.566 for the Twins team in the Gulf Coast League. Statistics in the GCL (or even the Appy League, the next rung up the ladder) are meaningless for evaluative purposes; he could hit .140 there and it wouldn't mean anything. He's an 18-year-old getting his feet wet.

Then there's Wander Javier, also 18, a Dominican signing from two years ago who is playing short this summer for Elizabethton in the Appy League. Javier is hitting .286/.362/.429 in E-Town. The Twins gave him a bigger bonus than they gave Miguel Sano, so even though Javier hasn't played two dozen professional games yet, he's obviously somebody to keep an eye on.

And one of the things to watch is what happens when/if Lewis is assigned to the same level as Javier, which might come fairly quickly. Only one can play shortstop at a time.

Too many shortstop prospects is a better problem than no shortstop prospects.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Twins at the All-Star game

All three Twins at the All-Star Game played, and it was a mixed bag of results:


  • Miguel Sano blooped an RBI single to right in his only at-bat;
  • Brandon Kintzler had a Brandon Kintzler inning -- three batters, three ground balls;
  • Ervin Santana allowed the only National League run, a homer by Yadier Molina.


“I was a fan that got to pitch in the game, so I appreciate that.”
-- Brandon Kintzler
 
 Nicely said. Now two days off and back to the season.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Twins at the break

The Twins are 45-43, 2.5 games behind Cleveland in the American League Central. This you can tell from a glance at the standings.

But the innards of that record are ... interesting.

For example: The Twins are 10-5 in games decided by one run. They are 12-20 in games decided by five or more runs.

This is NOT typical of good teams. The better the team, the more often they win in blowouts, and as a rule they have a lesser record in one-run games. Truly good teams turn the game they imight win close into an easy win and the game they might get blown out in into a tight contest.

For example: The Los Angeles Dodgers, who have the best record in baseball, are 12-10 in one-run games, but 21-4 in blowouts.

The Twins have been outscored on the season by 60 runs. The Pythagorean Theorum says their record should be 38-50. That's not the worst pythagorean figure in the AL, but it's close, and that suggests that the real record is something of a mirage.

Drilling a bit deeper:

Hitting: The average American League team has scored 4.71 runs per game. The Twins are averaging 4.58, ninth of the 15 teams. They are next to last in slugging percentage but seventh in on-base percentage, which is helped by the second-highest walk total in the league.

Minnesota also has the youngest lineup in the league (according to Baseball Reference, which weights the ages by at-bats and games played). As a general rule, hitters walk more as they age, which makes the Twins' high walk totals a bit of an oddity.

Pitching: The Twins (no surprise) have the second worst ERA in the league (4.89). They are one spot better in runs allowed per game (5.26) because they allow relatively few unearned runs. They have surrendered 135 homers, second-most in the AL, and they remain, as they have for years, dead last in the league in strikeouts.

Defensive metrics: The Twins currently have a DER -- Defensive Efficiency Rating -- of .694, meaning that they have turned 69.4 percent of balls in play into outs. This is fourth in the AL, and closer to seventh than to third. Their status in this metric has slipped over the past month or so.

The Twins rank better in some other metrics. They're second in the league in runs saved as estimated by the Total Zone method and third in runs saved as reckoned by Baseball Info Systems' methodology.




Monday, July 10, 2017

Contemplatng Tyler Duffey

It was the kind of situation Tyler Duffey had excelled at for most of this season: The starting pitcher (in this case Kyle Gibson) was struggling in the fifth inning, but the Twins were still in the game, down two with a man on and no outs. The obvious notion was for Duffey to work the fifth and sixth innings and keep the Twins in the game. This, as I have repeatedly observed, is Duffey's role on the staff.

But Duffey did not excel Sunday. Single, groundout, single, double. goundout,. fly out. Not only did the inherited runner score, but so did two more runs charged to Duffey, and the Twins were down five.

Duffey's ERA, as low as 2.10 on May 28,  is now 4.81. Sunday's appearance was the fifth straight in which he allowed at least two baserunners.

My sense is that Paul Molitor in the past month or so has tried to expand Duffey's role, to not only include the middle-relief multiple inning assignment but to be the primary right-handed setup guy. He has worked back-to-back days four times now this season, the first on May 28, so the no-rest outings have gome in this rough stretch.

This is the problem with a thin bullpen, that the reliable guys get used so much that they break. Perhaps four days off will revive Duffey. But even if Duffey bounces back, the Twins still need a righty Molitor can use in the seventh or eighth innings so Duffey can settle back into that fifth and sixth inning role.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Pic of the Week


 Derek Dietrich of the Miami Marlins
jokes around with an oversized glove borrowed from
Marlins fan Tony Voda (right)
during the first inning of their game on July 4 in St. Louis.
Too big a mitt to be legally used, but cause for a double-take anyway.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Notes, quotes and comment

Friday was quite the busy day in Twinsdom. Let's get chronologic:

* Joe Mauer went on the disabled list with Kennys Vargas recalled. The Twins demoted Vargas on Monday to reactivate Ehire Adrianza. Mauer injured his back on Tuesday, and the Twins dawdled a couple of days before pulling the trigger, presumably (as I noted Thursday) because Vargas hasn't given them a lot of reason to get excited about playing him.

So naturally Vargas went 3-for-4 with a double and a couple RBIs.

*Brandon Kintzler was one of a handful of replacement All-Stars named Friday, and good for him. That gives the Twins three members of the AL squad: Miguel Sano, Ervin Santana and Kintzler.

Kintzler currently leads the American League in saves, which

  • is meaningless as an evaluative stat and
  • made his selection almost inevitable.

* The Twins signed Bartolo Colon to a minor league deal.

Colon became an unlikely cult hero in his three years with the Mets; he's old (44), fat (listed at 285 pounds) and amusingly inept at the plate. But the Braves released him after he put up an 8.18 ERA in 13 starts.




I'm not optimistic about Colon. But I'm not optimistic about the rotation "fixes" on hand either. Derek Falvey told the press corps during the game that Colon thinks he can correct himself and pitch beyond this season, and noted (accurately) that Colon has reinvented himself as a pitcher a few times. So we'll see; the Twins have a minimal investment in "Big Sexy," so all they have to lose are a couple of games.

* Felix Jorge started, got shelled, got demoted (that last, as least, as predicted here).

Roy Smalley drew a Johan Santana comp to Jorge early in the game on FSN, which is ridiculous. Santana is left-handed and threw harder than Jorge. A more realistic comp, at least in terms of what kind of pitcher Jorge might become, is Brad Radke -- a fastball that sits around 90, a good change-up, top-notch command of both pitches.

And, hey, if Jorge becomes Radke, that's marvelous. He's not there yet. He has no chance of becoming Santana. And the signing of Colon, plus the presence in Rochester of Dillon Gee (opt-out date July 15), plus Friday's failed outing  -- that all adds up to he's not getting another shot at the majors anytime soon. Jorge is returning to Chattanooga, and I would expect to see him back in September but not before.

* Outfielder Zack Granite was recalled. He's hitting .360 in Rochester, which is good. He's drawn about as many walks in Rochester as Eddie Rosario has in Minnesota, which is less good, and has far less power.

The gaudy batting average not withstanding, Granite is a fringe prospect, a protoypical fourth outfielder -- left-handed contact hitter, fast enough to play center, not enough pop to be a regular. And as a lefty bat, he's not a particularly good fit as a backup in an outfield with Rosario and Max Kepler among the regulars.

Granite is, at best, Ben Revere with a better arm.

My prediction: He won't be up long.

*Byron Buxton scored from first base on a single to center. Wowzers.

Anybody who thinks Granite should get Buck's playing time is deluded. Baseball Reference, at this writing, has Buxton as the third-most valuable player on the 2017 Twins with 1.8 WAR, behind Ervin Santana and Kepler and fractionally ahead of Sano.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Mauer's (not) back

I got one right, more or less: Alan Busenitz, called up to fill Hector Santiago's roster spot, was sent back to Rochester after watching two games from the bullpen to activate Felix Jorge, who will start today's game.

I expect that Jorge will be demoted again immediately after the game. The Twins figure to fill out the weekend with Aldaberto Mejia and Kyle Gibson, then have four days off, then will likely resume with Jose Berrios, Ervin Santana, Mejia and Gibson before needing the fifth starter again. That's 10 days; that's enough to reactivate Santiago if he's ready, or recall Jorge, or bring back Dillon Gee, or whatever.

It won't be Busenitz, but the Twins can get a useable player -- a bullpen arm or a position player -- into that roster spot for six games before they need a starting pitcher there. That's the kind of roster game the new regime has been rather adept at playing.

They've been a great deal less agggressive with Joe Mauer's roster status. Mauer sat out Wednesday and Thursday after injuring his back running the bases on Tuesday, and he remains on the active roster.




One issue may be: Who would they activate to take his place? They could bring back Kennys Vargas early if they DL Mauer, but they sent Vargas out because he's not hitting. Byung Ho Park has finally gotten his bat going at Rochester, but he's not on the 40-man roster. They could bring up an outfielder (hello, Zack Granite) and move Max Kepler to first base, but I doubt they're eager to take Kepler out of right field.


Thursday, July 6, 2017

Dancing the pitching staff

Hector Santiago was insistent that his lack of velocity Sunday was deliberate. On Tuesday he threw his regular bullpen session and, asked by a reporter if that meant he was making his scheduled start Friday, replied: "Presumably." On Wednesday he went on the disabled list again.

We can connect the dots as we wish, but bottom line is: Santiago is not making that Friday start.

Alan Busenitz, sent out on Friday, was recalled to take Santiago's roster spot. He could be called back up so quickly (normally an optioned player has to be down 10 days) because he's taking the place of a player going on the disabled list. But he's a relief pitcher, so that doesn't fill the vacant rotation spot.

That will reportedly be Felix Jorge, who started the second game of Saturday's doubleheader and gave the Twins their best start of the Kansas City series. He isn't covered by the 10-day rule because he was the 26th man for the doubleheader.

But somebody will have to come off the roster after today's game to make room for Jorge. Busenitz seems a possibility; so too Ryan Pressly, who was recalled to take Busenitz's spot after Busenitz had a long bullpen outing on Friday. Pressly has made one (unsuccessful) appearance in this callup.

The most likely outcome is that the Twins will have milked two days of an extra bullpen arm out of all this. And on day one of that extra arm. Ervin Santana threw a complete game, which sorta makes all the maneuvering irrelevant.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Contemplating Adalberto Mejia

Adalberto Mejia has been credited with the win in each of his last three starts, posting a 1.53 ERA in those outings and lowering his ERA for the season by more than a run in the process.

That would seem to suggest that the hefty lefty, a rookie who turned 24 a little more than two weeks ago, is emerging as a third effective starter in the Minnesota rotation.

On the other hand, he also averaged less than six innings a start and posted a mediocre 7/12 walk/strikeout ratio in that stretch. In 17.2 innings, he allowed 24 baserunners (16 hits, seven walks and one hit batter).

Mejia's gotten better results in the past couple weeks than even Ervin Santana and Jose Berrios, the big two of the Twins rotation. Still, even as one who prefered Mejia for the rotation over the spring training competion for the one open spot, I can't say I see this success as sustainable given the underlying numbers.

He's not truly pitching well enough for a 1.53 ERA. And for the season, he's not truly pitching well enough for a 4.32 ERA, which is his mark after 12 starts. He's not the biggest problem in the rotation, but he's not yet fully convinced me, as Berrios has, that he's part of the solution.

More innings and fewer baserunners, please.


Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Notes, quotes and comment

Sir Rodney, back in Minnesota with his new heart
Another milestone in the recovery of Rod Carew, who survived a "widowmaker" heart attack 15 months again and a heart/kidney transplant six months ago: Cleared to fly, he got to Minnesota to throw out a first pitch Monday in a game that pitted the two teams that have retired his number, the Twins and the Angels.

So presumably he'll make it to Cooperstown for the Hall of Fame induction weekend later this month, and presumably the beloved bat magician will have a few more trips to Minnesota in the future.

---

The Twins optioned out Kennys Vargas after the game and reactivated infielder Ehire Adrianza. They didn't want to send out a pitcher, considering all the short starts of late (Adalberto Mejia's seven-inning start Monday not withstanding), and Brian Dozier's back is apparently acting up, so another infielder might be needed.

---

Baseball America's current issue names its high school player of the year (No. 3 overall pick Mackenzie Gore) and its All-American high school team. A notable omission in my eyes: Royce Lewis, the California prep infielder the Twins took first overall. He's not only absent from the first team, but the second and third as well, meaning BA found at least six high school middle infielders it deemed to have had better seasons.

This hardly means the Twins laid an egg last month by tabbing Lewis 1/1. (For what it's worth, the kid is putting on a laser show with the bat in a few dozen Gulf Coast League at-bats.) I just expected to see the first overall pick to be on the team.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Rotation roundabout

A road trip that began with such promise -- a sweep in Cleveland and a return to first place -- collapsed in Boston and Kansas City. The Twins end the first half 41-40 and three games out, and it feels worse.

I've been obsessing here with the bullpen depth, but the biggest immediate problem right now might be the starting pitching:




On Sunday Hector Santiago was pulled after 58 pitches, just 10 outs and almost no velocity; he grumbled postgame about the quick hook, but it's difficult to criticize Paul Molitor for pulling him. Phil Hughes then entered (his second bullpen outing), and he got five outs while allowing six hits, which is a horrid batting average allowed.

Santiago's ERA is 5.63, and that may overstate his effectiveness. Hughes' ERA is even worse (5.72) and the hope that he can at least give the bullpen a boost has yet to be supported. We have not seen from him the usual velocity surge that accompanies moves to the bullpen.

Felix Jorge allowed three runs in five innings in his spot start in Saturday's doubleheader, and that mediocre line is being lauded. I'll be the Debby Downer on this: He's not an answer to the rotation woes. But then, I don't know who is.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Pic of the Week

Houston pitcher Lance McCullers tags out
the Yankees' Austin Romine as he tries to
score on a pitch that got past the catcher.

That is one ugly slide.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Notes, quotes and comment

Another big inning fueled by a poor defensive play involving a comebacker to the mound. On Thursday in Boston it was a mental mistake by Kyle Gibson; on Friday it was a poor throw by Ervin Santana.

I say it a lot, but it's true: This pitching staff isn't good enough to bail out the fielders. That's true even when the fielding miscues come from the pitchers themselves.

---

Roster stuff: Alan Busenitz got eight outs on 35 pitches Friday night to mop up behind Santana. He also committed an error of his own that led to an unearned run, but he knocked his ERA down to 2.08. (The underlying numbers are considerably less impressive.)

His reward was to be optioned back out to Rochester, with Ryan Pressly and his 8.18 major league ERA recalled. Pressly has a 0.90 ERA in Rochester with 15 strikeouts in 10 innings (and five walks), so it's not like it's an unwarranted return.

The Twins have been doing this for much of the year. They have a handful of relievers who are staying -- the big three of Brandon Kintzler, Taylor Rogers and Tyler Duffey, the optionless veterans Matt Belisle and Craig Breslow -- and everybody else is subject to the Rochester shuttle. Busenitz isn't going to be available for a few days, the Twins have a double header today in Kansas City, the Twins have a fresh arm.

Pressly and Busenitz are essentially the same type of pitcher: Good velocity, less good command. On Friday, Busenitz had the bullpen's highest velocity; today that designation belongs to Pressly.

---

Both Alex Wimmers and Mason Melotakis cleared waivers and remain in the Minnesota organization. The move a week ago to clear Melotakis off the 40-man roster raised some eyebrows in the Twins internets, but we now know that nobody else thought the lefty was worth a 40-man roster spot.

---

One Twins prospect was selected for the Futures Game this year. middle infielder Nick Gordon. whose offensive game has stepped up in all areas this season. (Moving up from Hammond Stadium probably helped.)

Notably absent is outfielder Zach Granite, who is hitting about .370 in Triple A, albeit with few walks and minimal power.

The Futures Game is intended to showcase top talent regardless of level. Granite is obviously having a fine season despite the shortcomings in his game, but he doesn't truly fit the idea of the Futures Game.

Friday, June 30, 2017

On Gibson, Hughes and Jorge

SOG -- Same old Gibson.

Paul Molitor, speaking about Kyle Gibson's start after the game, called Thursday "one of his better nights," and perhaps it was in some ways. But Gibson walked the leadoff hitter in the fatal fifth inning, surrendered a pair of crucial extra-base hits after falling behind in the count and messed up a key defensive play when he failed to remember that the "wheel play" was on.

It wasn't all his fault. Jorge Polanco was charged with an error, and the Red Sox turned a couple of jam shots to their advantage. Still, it was another example of how damage control is not Gibson's forte. Big innings seem to find him, in no small part because he sends the invitation.

---

Phil Hughes made his relief debut Thursday night: 1.2 innings, two strikeouts, one hit and two inherited runners stranded.

Velocity in the low 90s, which is about as hard as he's thrown this year. I'll call it an encouraging start to this bullpen experience.

---



I published this post on Jorge almost two years ago. This year, pitching in Double A, he's put up a 8-1 record with a 3.26 ERA, which looks pretty good, but he's also allowed more hits than innings pitched, his home run rate has elevated and his walk and strikeout rates are both among the worst of his minor league career. (His stat lines are here.)

It will be a one-day callup. He's not ready for a major league rotation role even if the Twins are inclined to open one up.


Thursday, June 29, 2017

Notes, quotes and comment

Adalberto Mejia, five-and-fly.

The hefty lefty has made two starts on this road trip and hasn't allowed a run. He also hasn't had a quality start; five innings against Cleveland on June 23, 5.2 Wednesday night in Boston. Mejia has now made 11 major-league starts; he's pitched into the seventh just twice.

That'll work if the bullpen is deep and/or rested, as it was Wednesday (as I commented in my previous post, Paul Molitor was able to shield his key relievers in the Tuesday debacle). It would sure be a lot better if Mejia could get 21 outs with some consistency, not just 15.

---

Craig Breslow went on the disabled list Wednesday and Phil Hughes came off a bit earlier than anticipated. Breslow hasn't had a high leverage role, but his recent struggles have strained the 'pen.

Hughes represents a potential upgrade to the bullpen, and a potential risk as well. I doubt Molitor will be as reluctant to use him for key outs as he is such rookies as Adam Businitz and Trevor Hildenberger. But we really don't know how his stuff is going to play out of the bullpen or how well his post-surgical arm will hold up under more frequent use.

---

I don't know that much about the umpiring work of John Tumpane.  He became a full-time MLB umpire less than a year ago, he's worked a no-hitter, and I can't recall ever noticing him at a Twins game, which is probably a good sign.

I do know that he's a freakin' hero. This harrowing story of how he intervened to keep a despondent woman from leaping off the Roberto Clemente Bridge outside PNC Park in Pittsburgh (and then umped home plate) on Tuesday makes me an admirer for life.

"I'll never forget you." Indeed not.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

One to forget, and remember

The Twins did very little well Tuesday night -- hitting, pitching, fielding -- and got embarrassed by the Boston Red Sox. It happens to every team on occasion.

The rain delay that forced Hector Santiago out of the game early probably didn't help -- not that Santiago was dominating in his two innings, but the Twins certainly wanted him to throw more than 49 pitches in his first start back from the disabled list.

Santiago probably wasn't likely to work deep into the game regardless, but his rain-hastened departure exposed the weak side of the Minnesota bullpen to a potent Boston lineup. Craig Breslow fared worst: three runs (two earned) in one painful inning.

Breslow -- and Matt Belisle, who followed him with two innings in which he allowed three unearned runs -- were signed in part for chemistry reasons. The idea was that a bullpen that figured to contain several younger, inexperienced pitchers would benefit from a a couple of 30-somethings who've been around.

That may be. But the core job is still to get outs. Breslow's ERA now stands at 5.28 -- he had a 2.57 ERA three weeks ago. Belisle's ERA, even after his superficially "effective" two innings, is even worse: 6.53.

The good news is that Paul Molitor avoided using his big three (Tyler Duffey, Taylor Rogers and Brandon Kintzler) to eat innings in a lost game, and Buddy Bosher wasn't deployed for a third straight day. They're presumably all available tonight.

In the longer term, Tuesday further undermines the status of Belisle and, especially, Breslow.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Gee, the bullpen B's

Dillon Gee will probably feel like a ping pong ball soon, if he doesn't already.

The right-handed pitcher was released on June 18 by Texas. The Twins signed him to a minor-league deal on the 22nd. The Twins then called him up on the 24th. He spent three days sitting in the Twins bullpen, and Monday night he was optioned out to Rochester without getting into a game. And even though he hasn't pitched since June 14, there's a pretty good chance the Twins will make him their doubleheader callup for Saturday in Kansas City.

I had assumed Gee, in his eighth major-league season, was out of options when I speculated in the Monday post that the most likely demotions (to make room for Hector Santiago today and probably Phil Hughes later in the week) were from the trio of Trevor Hildenberger, Adam Busenitz and Buddy Boshers. Gee went first. But somebody is likely to go later in the week, and that adds intrigue to Paul Molitor's bullpen choices late in Monday's game.

Jose Berrios gave up two runs in the first (and was probably fortunate that it was only two), then settled in for the next five. But the Twins couldn't do much with Chris Sale and trailed 2-1 going into the bottom of the seventh. Berrios was pulled in the seventh with men on first and third, one out, for Matt Belisle.

Comments: Belisle has a lousy ERA, but almost all his bad outings have come when he started an inning. He's actually fared fairly well at stranding inherited runners; entering Monday's game, he had inherited 12 runners and allowed just two to score. Whether that's just random success or some sort of skill -- and I'm inclined to the randomness theory -- that is doubtless part of why Molitor continues to use the veteran in game situations.

And why not one of the "big three" in the Twins bullpen (Tyler Duffey, Taylor Rogers and Brandon Kintzler)? Probably because


  • The Twins were already behind
  • That trio was worked pretty hard in the Cleveland series
  • Santiago in't likely to go much more than five innings tonight. If he can keep the Twins in the game, Duffey will likely be needed for one of his usual two-inning stints..

So it made sense to go to the bullpen's second line.

Belisle gave up a single to Dustin Pedroia, driving in a run. Then he threw a sub-optimal pitch that Chris Gimenez failed to corral (ruled a passed ball), putting runners on second and third. Molitor granted Xavier Boegarts the intentional walk, then pulled Belisle for Buddy Boshers with the bases loaded and one out.

Comments: Belisle didn't give Molitor a lot of reason to stick with him in the Pedroia/Boegarts at-bats, and Molitor has seen too many big innings from Belisle already. Can't blame him for getting him out of there. I'm not a fan of the intentional walk to load the bases, but there is a logic behind setting up the double play.

The intriguing thing here is the use of Boshers over fellow lefty Craig Breslow. Boshers worked two innings the day before, and Breslow has pretty clearly been higher in the bullpen heirarchy. But Breslow have given up nine runs in his last seven innings.

Mitch Moreland hit a deep fly off Boshers -- there are several parks in which that ball is a homer -- and the Red Sox had another run, Boshers got the next man to fly to center also, and that ended the inning.

Busenitz got the eighth, and worked a 1-2-3 inning, flashing upper-90s velocity in the process.

So what does all that tell us?


  • Boshers may be in better position to stick than Breslow.
  • Belisle's status as the "No. 4" reliever, probably based on his success at stranding inherited runners, may be in jeopardy.
  • Busenitz has the stuff to be a power reliever.
I don't know long the ropes are for the veterans, Breslow and Belisle. I would like Molitor to be open to replacing either or both, and that may be happening already with Breslow. But that's going to be a process.




Monday, June 26, 2017

Contemplating Buddy Boshers

Pretty good weekend for the Twins in Cleveland. They swept the defending AL champs and returned, narrowly, to first place in the Central Division.

And give a lot of the credit to the oft-criticized and oft-battered bullpen. The Twins allowed just two runs in the three games despite getting just 15.2 innings from the starters. The bullpen worked four innings in Friday's shutout (Tyler Duffey two, Taylor Rogers one, Brandon Kintzler one); 4.1 in Saturday's win (Duffey 1.1, Matt Belisle 0.2, Rogers 1.1, Trevor Hildenberger one) and three Sunday (Buddy Boshers two, Kintlzer one).

Broken down like that, we see the usual pattern in use. Paul Molitor used each of his three most-trusted bullpen arms (Duffey, Rogers, Kintlzer) twice. He even used Duffey in back-to-back games, which is not part of the usual pattern. Molitor tried again to get crucial outs from the veteran Belisle, and Belisle gave up the one run the bullpen yielded all series.

Having gotten 10 outs from Duffey (and seven from Rogers) in the first two games of the series, Molitor pretty much had to find somebody else Sunday for the bridge role. That somebody was Buddy Boshers.

And that went quite well. Two innings, no hits, one base runner (a disputed HBP), one strikeout.

It was Boshers' 11th outing for the Twins this year, and his first in a game they ultimately won. (He does have one hold, which came in a game in which Belisle and Craig Breslow combined for a nine-run meltdown after Boshers threw a scoreless inning.) Sunday wasn't a hold, because the Twins had a four-run lead when he entered, but Boshers definitely got the job done. His ERA is down to 2.50.

The Greg McMichael Rule comes into play: Get outs and they'll find a role for you. (Greg McMichael was a pitcher with the Atlanta Braves during the height of the Maddux-Glavine-Smoltz era who was a minor league free agent in spring training and the closer by the second half of the season.) Boshers has gotten outs, and a bigger role is clearly available.

But ...

The pitching staff's revolving door is about to spin some more, with Hector Santiago coming off the DL for Tuesday's start in Boston and perhaps the return of Phil Hughes. The Twins had nine guys in the bullpen in Cleveland, and three of them (Breslow, Adam Busenitz and Dillon Gee) didn't pitch. I would expect Gee to be "piggy backed" with Santiago on Tuesday; I certainly don't expect the Twins to try to demote him before pitching him.

Belisle and Breslow can't be optioned out; clearing them off the major league roster means waiving them. So the bullpen options for clearing roster space for Santiago and/or Hughes would seem to be Busenitz, Hildenberger or Boshers. We'll toss starter Aldaberto Mejia into that mix as well, even though he has the third best ERA of the nine men who've started.

It's a bit of a puzzle. The Twins signed Belisle and Breslow with an eye to leavening the inexpeience on this pitching staff. They haven't been very good, but they are difficult to move. I don't think the Twins will option out Boshers to make room for Santiago or Hughes, but it's hardly impossible. One good outing doesn't make his job safe.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Pic of the Week

Trevor Plouffe celebrates a homer on Wednesday.

I had post a bit more than a week ago about former Twins third baseman Trevor Plouffe being designated for assignment by Oakland. He was quickly traded to Tampa Bay, and on Wednesday hit his first homer as a Ray.

My wife, when I told her about Plouffe joining the Rays, said something about how I would still get to make puns off his name. I replied: Yes, his career hasn't gone plouffe.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Wimmers and Melotakis

As noted in Friday morning's post, the Twins needed to clear room that day on their 40-man roster to make room of Dillon Gee and Trevor Hildenberger. They did so by designating for assignment two minor leaguers who were high draft picks.

Alex Wimmers (first round, 2010) wasn't a great shock. He's bounced up and down between the big league club and Triple A the past two seasons. He was viewed when the Twins took him with the 21st overall pick out of Ohio State as a prototypical Twins strikethrower, but he's been anything but as a pro. He had enough trauma early in his minor league career that simply making it to the majors was an accomplishment, but that he was a failed first-round pick was evident years ago.

Mason Melotakis (second round, 2012), was a surprise. He's left-handed, for one thing; for another, his stats are superior to Wimmers'. He had a 2.42 ERA at Double A Chattanooga (26 innings, 31 strikeouts); then he was promoted to Triple A and had two scoreless outings.

And now he's bounced from the 40-man roster? What gives?




From Berardino's story:

.... Melotakis saw his velocity sit in the 89-90 mph range at Triple-A Rochester, where he recorded five outs without allowing a run. In the past, Melotakis had consistently run his fastball into the mid-90s ...
This is one of those times when I remind myself that the front office knows more about these guys than I do. A few weeks ago I was mildly surprised when the Twins chose to promote Randy Rosario, another lefty relief prospect, to the majors instead of Melotakis. That may have been an indication that Melotakis' stock had declined.

It will be interesting to see what happens regarding Melotakis in the next few days. The stat line says there should be other organizations eager to pick him up. The scouting reports may give a different recommendation.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Chris Gimenez, Nik Turley and more pitching moves

Thurday's rain delay was apparently the longest in Twins history -- five hours -- and it sure didn't take long for the Twins to suspect that they should have just postponed it.

It was still the first inning when I sent this tweet:




And sure enough, the Twins backup catcher pitched the ninth inning, his sixth pitching appearance of the season.

There was a lot of chatter leading up to the draft about two-way players, and the question arises: At what point to we consider Gimenez a two-way player? My answer is: When his pitching is not limited to the ninth inning of blowout losses.

That said, Gimenez has now pitched five innings with a 7.20 ERA this season. The Twins have used 25 pitchers (and counting; two new names, Dillon Gee and Trevor Hildenberger, are being called up). Six of them have worse ERAs than Gimenez and eight have fewer appearances.

---

Nik Turley is one of the six and of the eight (ERA 16.39 in three games, all starts, total of 9.1 innings). The Twins merely optioned him out rather than designating him for assignment Thursday, but the Twins need to make space on the 40-man roster today for both Gee and Hildenberger, and DFAing Turley is an obvious possibility.

I feel for the guy. He was a 50th round draft pick, spent a decade in minors, finally gets to the show and gets three starts, every one of which goes poorly, every one worse than the one preceeding it.

Indeed, he may be the least effective pitcher in Twins history, although I'm not sure how to weigh ERA vs. opportunity. For example: Randy Rosario has an ERA of 30.86, but Turley has seven more innings and two decisions.

Having written that, I looked up Steve Carlton's Twins record. The no-doubt-about-it Hall of Famer pitched 53.2 innings for the Twins at the end of his marvelous career with an 8.54 ERA, going 1-6 in 1987-88. Andy MacPhail and Tom Kelly gave him a lot of rope.

---

As for the new guys: Gee was signed to a minor league deal earlier this week, and presumably he's going to take Turley's rotation berth, although I wouldn't care to wager that he's ready to go deep into his first start. As I said when he signed, I don't expect much.

Hildenberger is a sidearming right-handed reliever who has shot up the minor league system, posting some ridiculous ERAs in the process. Last season he had a combined 0.75 at two levels (high A and Double A). That is not a typo: Zero point seven five. This year's ERA is a more normal 2.05 with 35 strikeouts in 30.1 innings at Triple A. That K-rate is roughly what he's posted consistently.

No velocity; if he threw hard he would have been up earlier. I don't know how his style is going to fare in the majors and particularly against lefties, but


  • he's been getting outs in the minors and
  • the Twins are in no position to ignore that.


He calls to mind Anthony Slama. another funky righty who never got a real chance with the Twins despite some overwhelming minor league numbers. Slama had some bad timing with injuries, but at the core of his lack of opportunites was a belief that his minor league success was based on minor league hitters chasing pitches out of the strike zone. Slama always walked more guys than Hildenberger has, though.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Minnesota in Puerto Rico


The games will be April 17-18 and are offically both home games for the Twins. I had figured that they'd be split as home games for Cleveland and Minnesota, but once again I thought wrong. 

At least it figures to be a bit warmer there in April than at Target Field. (Or at the Cleveland stadium, for that matter.)

The last MLB games in San Juan were in 2010. In the early 2000s there were quite a few games played there; the Expos, as wards of the league, at one point split their home schedule between Montreal and San Juan.

With the island on the verge of bankruptcy, it's highly unlikely MLB is exploring San Juan as a team location. This is more likely about growing the game's appeal among Puerto Rico's youth, which really shouldn't be necessary. Puerto Rico has long produced outstanding talent. But that talent started drying up when MLB subjected the island's residents to the draft. This removed the incentive for MLB teams to invest in developing the kids; why spend the money when somebody else can then benefit from it? 

There are three Puerto Rican natives on the Twins roster: Jose Berrios, Eddie Rosario and Kennys Vargas; Hector Santiago, who is from New Jersey, also played for PR during the World Baseball Classic. Cleveland has the biggest star from the island of the two teams in shortstop Francisco Lindor. 
 

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Phil Hughes, reliever

Intriguing:




Hughes has been a reliever before -- he spent much of 2009 as a set-up man to Mariano Rivera as the Yankees won the World Series -- but he hasn't made more than a couple of relief apperances in any season since.

The idea is that shorter stints will avoid the tingling sensation in his fingers, an echo of the symptoms that led to last year's thoratic outlet syndrome surgery.

Hughes as a reliever isn't what Terry Ryan (or Hughes) had in mind when Hughes signed his contract extension after his outstanding 2014 season, but if he has the usual uptick in velocity in the bullpen role, Hughes as a reliever might solve one of the pitching staff's issues. A reliable right-handed short man would ease Paul Molitor's burden.

He (and the also rehabbing Hector Santiago) are to pitch today for Rochester. Per Berardino, the idea is that this weekend Hughes will try pitching in back-to-back games. Back-to-back outings in rehab assignments are typically a trigger to bring the pitcher off the disabled list, so it's possible that Hughes will be back next week. Santiago was reportedly reluctant to go on a rehab assignment at all, preferring to simply return to the rotation, so it's possible Santiago will be back next week. Getting both back on the mound can't hurt.

Meanwhile, the Twins have signed Dillon Gee to a minor league deal. Gee has had some success in a major league rotation, but not lately; the Rangers cut him loose earlier this year after he gave up four homers in 13 innings. I'm not counting on much, but he may be an upgrade on Adam Wilk.



Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Notes, quotes and comment

Cleaning up roster moves from the weekend: Alex Wimmers came and went; he was the 26th man for the Saturday doubleheader, pitched in the first game (ineffectively) and returned to Rochester.

Adam Wilk, who started that game (ineffectively) was designated for assignment immediately afterward and Alan Busenitz added to both the 40- and 25-man rosters.

I saw some Twitter chatter ascribing the selection of Wilk to start the opener of the doubleheader as a passive-aggressive move by Paul Molitor aimed at the front office. Not at all. He needed an additional starter for the double header; they gave him Wilk. And Wilk started the first game so they could cut him between games and add Busenitz.

For better or worse -- and it's been most worse, for certain -- guys like Wilk, Nick Tepesch and Nik Turley are the Plan C arms for the rotation. With Trevor May, Hector Santiago and Phil Hughes all sidelined, the Twins worked through their first line of reserve starters. The Plan B guys -- Jose Berrios and Aldaberto Mejia -- have been good (Berrios) or mostly usable (Mejia). That third line, though ...

---

Speaking of Santiago and Hughes, both are expected to go on a rehab assignment this week. And Glen Perkins is apparently about to pitch in games for the Fort Myers Miracle, with reports that his velocity has ticked up in recent sessions (although still considerably below his pre-injury norms).

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It didn't take long for Trevor Plouffe to land a new job; the Tampa Bay Rays picked him up Saturday, and he made his debut Monday night at DH.

The Rays have Evan Longoria at third base, and even though Longo isn't having a stellar season, nobody should see Plouffe as a challenger for that job. He'll probably get some time at first and DH with an emphasis on facing left-handed pitchers.

---
The Twins signed their top two draft picks, Royce Lewis and Brant Rooker, over the weekend. One thing for the bonus pool system: Players aren't holding out into August and essentially losing out on the minor league season.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Not in first place anymore

The Twins held a two-game lead in the AL Central when I started writing the Monday print column. They were two games behind the Cleveland Indians by the time it actually ran.

In retrospect, I should have been more explicit about something implied in that column: the current Twins are actually thinner in trustworthy pitching than the 1987 champs to whom I compared them, because the current Twins trustworthy pitchers won't pitch as much as their 1987 counterparts.

Bert Blyleven and Frank Viola combined for more than 500 innings in 1987; that is more than a third of the team total. Ervin Santana and Jose Berrios won't come close to 500 innings this year, and they have combined to pitch less than a fourth of the innings so far.

The three relievers on the '87 champs Tom Kelly relied on all season -- Jeff Reardon, Juan Berenguer and Keith Atherton -- combined to pitch more than 271 innings. The three relievers Paul Molitor trusts at this point -- Brandon Kintzler, Tyler Duffey and Taylor Rogers -- won't to get to that level either, although Berenguer's month or so in the rotation makes that less than a perfect comparison.

Molitor has the same number of reliable pitchers as Kelly did. But he uses them less often, which means he has to get more innings out of the unreliable pitchers. That's not conducive to contention,

That showed in the weekend debacle against the Cleveland Indians. True, neither Santana nor Berrios got  a start in that series. The Tribe's ace, Corey Kluber, also didn't pitch. Both teams had to dip into their minor leagues for a starter in Saturday's doubleheader. Cleveland's fill-ins were better. (Suprise,)

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Pic of the Week

Rev. Patrick J. Conroy, chaplain of the U.S. House
of Representatives leads both teams in prayer before
Thursday's annual congressional baseball game, 

It's quite possible that until this week you didn't know that there was such a thing as an annual congressional baseball game.

I was aware of it back in the early 1970s for some reason -- aware, among other things, that the Republicans at the time had a pretty good winning streak going on in large part because Rep. Wilmer Mizell, R-N.C., was better known as "Vinegar Bend" Mizell, who pitched nine years in the majors and was the No. 3 starter on the 1960 World Series champion Pirates. Ol' Vinegar Bend wasn't up to major league standards a decade or so later, but he still had too much for the Democrats to hit.

Thursday's game followed the Wednesday atrocity on a ball field in the Washington suburbs in which a prominent congressman and others were shot. It is well and good that the game was played as scheduled, even with heavy hearts.

And it is worth noticing that the crowd at Nationals Park, home yard of the capital city's major league squad, beat the audiences at a number of major league games that day -- including the game at Target Field.

Of course, nobody went to the Washington game to see a high level of baseball skill.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Still more pitching shuffles

Nik Turley fared ill Friday night, and with a double header on tap today some pitching changes are afoot.

While the Twins didn't announce specifics Friday night, the word was that three new arms would be on hand for the twin dip: Adam Wilk to start Game 1, Alex Wimmers as the 26th man for the doubleheader. and Alan Busenitz as the next relief experiment.

The Twins outrighted Chris Heston on Friday, which created one spot on the 40. Another will be needed to get both Wilk and Buzenitz on the 40 today. And then somebodies have to be moved off the 25 man roster for them as well.

Wilk and Wimmers are presumably short-term additions. Busenitz may not be. He was a throw-in last summer in the Hector Santiago-for-Ricky Nolasco deal, and he's been impressive so far for Triple A Rochester.

The Twins are short of reliable bullpen arms (and reliable starters, but that's another matter). I won't guarantee Busenitz is one, but he's more likely than Wimmers to be a useful fireman.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Ex-Twin watch: Trevor Plouffe

Trevor Plouffe has not fared well at the plate for Oakland,
and the last-place Athletics are going to play prize prospect
Matt Chapman at third.
Trevor Plouffe celebrated -- if that's the verb -- his 31st birthday Thursday by getting designated for assignment by the Oakland Athletics.

Happy Birthday, Trevor. By the way, you're fired.

Plouffe signed a one-year deal worth $5.25 million with Oakland fairly late in the winter after he was cut loose by the Twins early in the offseason. He hit a dismal .214/.276/.357 with Oakland, and the A's decided to call up a prospect and cut bait with the veteran.

I would expect that Plouffe will clear waivers and accept free agency, whereupon he'll probably sign pretty quickly with somebody (Boston has been mentioned) in need of a third baseman. He'll come cheap -- pro-rated major league minimum, with the A's paying the rest of his contract.

But he hasn't hit for a couple of years, and his defense at third base has slipped. The rule of thumb is that half the 30-year-old players in the majors will be out of the majors in two years, and the ones who go are the ones who fail to hit (relative to their position, of course). Plouffe is looking for his third team in about seven months; assuming he finds one, he'd better hit, or he may not find a fourth.


Thursday, June 15, 2017

Draft, Day three: And done

I wondered in the Wednesday post if the Twins had one more overslot draft pick in their plan. Miek Berardino of the Pioneer Press answered that quickly:




"Org guys" being baseball lingo for "players signed so the real prospects have enough teammates to make up a team."

The next step is crucial: Getting all 11 of the players drafted in the first 10 rounds signed to the expected deals. It appears that at least six of the selections are expected to take underslot deals, but the Twins can't afford to have somebody renege on that, a la Kyle Cody. The Twins picked Cody in the second round in 2015, and he opted to return to the University of Kentucky for his senior season instead.

Losing out on Cody wasn't a disaster. Cody wound up going in the sixth round last year, so he probably cost himself a lot of money, and his minor league numbers in the Rangers system are underwhelming. Plus the Twins got the 74th pick in the 2016 draft (prep outfielder Akil Baddoo) to compensate. (Baddoo is apparently waiting for the Appy League season to begin.)

But failing to sign Cody meant the Twins had the slot value of that pick deleted from their draft pool. That was relatively unimportant under Terry Ryan, because the Twins weren't trying to game the bonus pool system. This year they are. So failing to sign a high pick, even one they expect to sign under slot, will damage their entire draft.

---

The Twins had 41 picks in total and used 21 of them on pitchers., including 15 on the final day. Thirty-one of their picks were collegians. They won't sign a lot of them, of course. Failure to sign picks after Round 10 don't count against the pool.

---

Some minor league roster stuff to update: The Twins retained Drew Rucinski and Nick Tepesch, the two right-handers they recently designated for assignment. But they released Kevin Chapman, the lefty reliever they got from Atlanta for Danny Santana.

And amid all the draft stuff I hadn't noted that Ryan Pressly is back on the major league team, with Alex Wimmers shipped back to Rochester. Dick-n-Bert see Pressly as key to this bullpen, and he does have more of a power reliever's profile than anybody else out there, but really: even last year, his supposed breakout season, he wasn't that good.

The Twins do need a reliable righty to pair with Taylor Rogers in late innings to bridge between the starter/Tyler Duffey and closer Brandon Kintzler. I'm far from convinced Pressly is, or ever was, or will be, that reliable righty.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Draft, Day two: Going over and under (slot)

On the first day of the 2017 draft, the Twins selected frugally with their three picks. All are expected to sign for figures significantly "under slot".

That changed on Tuesday's second day with the first pick of the third round.




Enlow, as Bollinger writes, was ranked No. 29 in the draft class by MLB.com, which would have put him at the bottom of the first round. The 18-year-old from Louisiana was signed to LSU. It took late first-round money to land him, and the underslot picks ahead of him helped make that possible.

The Twins also took three college seniors with their last three selections. With no remaining eligibility and thus a lack of negotiating leverage, they are likely to sign for a fraction of their allotment of the bonus pool, although the savings won't be as great as they were from Monday.

Here's Bollinger's recap of the Twins' Day Two selections. They are heavy on college pitchers, with far less of the power-arm reliever type that the organization has been picking in recent years, although one of the seniors is a bullpen arm.

One more day lies ahead, with picks outside the bonus pool. I don't know if the Twins have enough saved to make another splash in these lower rounds, but we can figure they have a good idea.

---

I deemed Monday's Twins game a "the less said the better" affair, so I'll apply the same to Tuesday's 20-6 thrashing of Seattle. Nice days for the Eds of the roster, with Eddie Rosario hitting three homers and Eduardo Escobar going 5-for-6. A lot of batting averages got fattened up in that one.

But Kyle Gibson's ERA is now 6.79 after 11 starts. He's 4-0 in five starts since his return from the minors, but his ERA in that span is 5.46. and he has only one quality start. He's certainly not fixed yet.


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Draft, Day one: Twins roll with Royce (Lewis)

Royce Lewis plays third base in 2016 for
Jserra Catholic High School.
I didn't, obviously, see that one coming.

I wrote eight posts that were sufficiently draft-related that I tagged it with "2017 draft." I wrote two Monday print columns, including this week's, about the draft. Never did I mention Royce Lewis, who wound up Monday night as the Twins' selection as a top overall pick.

The basic idea -- selecting somebody who would sign for considerably less than slot to save money for later picks -- I foresaw. My error was in seeing MacKenzie Gore, left-handed prep pitcher, as that somebody. As it turned out, the Padres had Gore as their favored fall back from local prospect Hunter Greene at No. 3, and that limited the incentive for Gore to cut a deal.

Both Gore and Lewis are said to be "advised" by Scott Boras, and Boras probably figured that if the Twins took Brendan McKay, Kyle Wright or Greene first that Lewis would fall to fifth or lower.

Lewis was pretty consistently seen as the best prep position player prospect. He's "toolsy," with speed and power, and played both shortstop and outfield in high school (a private school in San Juan Capistrano in southern California).

The Twins say they think Lewis can stick at shortstop; that is not a universal assessment, and it may be tested pretty early, since he and Wander Javier, a Dominican who beat Miguel Sano's Twins bonus record, figure to be at roughly the same level. Only one of them can play short at a time.

The Twins apparently saw the top players in this draft class as essentially equal; they drafted the one who would sign for the least. That is a fairly common strategy so far in the (short) bonus pool era, which (despite the Hunter Greene hype) hasn't truly featured a "generational" prospect.

---

I had expected that the Twins would take local product Sam Carlson of Burnsville if the right-hander reached them at picks 35 and 37. He did, and they didn't.

No. 35 was Brent Rooker, an outfielder from Mississippi State who dominated the difficult SEC as a hitter. The Twins drafted him last year as a redshirt sophomore but didn't sign him. Obviously they still wanted him. He's probably limited to left field or first base defensively, and he's likely to be old for the first league he's assigned to.

No. 37 was Landon Leach, a right-handed pitcher from a high school in Ontario. Presumably the Twins like him more than Carlson.

The Twins have the first pick today when the draft resumes with the third round.

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The less said about Monday's Twins game, the better. The Twins optioned out Chris Heston to reinstate Jorge Polanco from the bereavement list and probably regretted that decision before the game was over, as Adalberto Mejia didn't get through four innings.

The Twins have a doubleheader coming before they have another off day, and they burned through a lot of relievers on Monday, so they'll be going back to 13 pitchers soon. And unless its to replace somebody going on the disabled list, it won't be Heston.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Notes, quotes and comment

The Twins ended their essentially successful West Coast marathon (6-4) with another dud of a bullpen performance on Sunday.

I wrote a lot last week about Matt Belisle specifically and the thinness of the bullpen in general -- pretty much every post from Monday through Saturday dealt with the relief corps -- so it was probably fitting that Belisle had a central role in Sunday's late inning collapse.

Belisle's ERA for the season now stands at 8.59, with almost all the damage coming in four appearances. He always figured to be an ill fit for a high-leverage role, but I don't know who else Paul Molitor can use in those situations with the current bullpen without wrecking Tyler Duffey and Brandon Kintzler with overuse. There are just too many mop-up type arms on this staff.

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The draft begins tonight. I devoted the Monday print column to my thoughts on who and what the the Twins should do with the first overall pick. With, of course, the disclaimer that the Twins know a lot more about this than I do.

I don't expect the Twins to follow my "recommendation," and I certainly won't criticize them when they don't.

One thing I didn't get to in a slightly longer than usual column: Sports Illustrated did nobody any favors by putting Hunter Greene on its cover a few weeks ago. The people who cover the scouting and prospect world for a living say the consensus is that Greene is a lesser prospect than a couple of high school righties from the previous two draft classes.

What makes Greene unique is that he's a viable first-round pick as both a pitcher and a shortstop. But I can't imagine that anybody is going to let him throw a few dozen high-velocity fastballs on Tuesday and play shortstop on Wednesday. He's going to do one or the other.

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Catching up on the Twins roster moves: Randy Rosario was indeed shipped back to the minors (to Triple-A Rochester rather than Double A Chattanooga, from whence he was called up) to make room for Nik Turley, the Sunday starter, on the 25-man roster, To make room on the 40-man roster, Dan Rucinski was designated for assignment.

Turley wasn't great Sunday -- four innings, eight hits, four runs -- but he didn't walk anybody and struck out four and threw 46 strikes in his 73 pitches. I expect he'll get more starts; Phil Hughes hasn't thrown since going on the DL, so he's not close to returning, and Hector Santiago doesn't have a timeline to return either.

Jorge Polanco is to rejoin the team from his breavement leave today, so another move is coming.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Pic of the Week

Johnny Cueto's pitch is frozen in mid air.
I've used similar photos before for this feature. But even if this is duplicative of an earlier Pic of the Week, there's something irresistible about the sight of a ball so perfectly frozen and focused that you can count the stitches and read the printing.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Notes, quotes and comment

Pretty impressive game for Ervin Santana on Friday night in San Francisco: A 91-pitch complete game shutout (a "Maddux") plus three RBIs on a "double." A single, certainly, but Denard Span dove for, came up short and knocked it away from himself and right fielder Hunter Pence.

If Span were as good a defensive center fielder as some in Minnesota seem to think he is, he catches that ball. Byron Buxton probably catches that ball. But Span is 33, his defensive metrics are in decline, and he didn't get there.

Twins fans have been blessed with some truly great defensive centerfielders over the past 30-plus years -- Kirby Puckett, Torii Hunter, Buxton, Carlos Gomez. Span, even at his best, was never in their class.

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Paul Molitor said after the game that Nik Turley will get Sunday's start, filling in for Hector Santiago, who went on the disabled list after his Tuesday start.

Turley is a left-handed refugee of indy ball who entered the pros as a 50th-round draft pick back in 2008. The draft doesn't go that long anymore. He spent years in the Yankee system, then a year in the Giants organization. He split 2016 between a Red Sox farm club and an independent team.

He's 27 and didn't even get an invite to major league camp this spring, but he has put up a combined 2.05 ERA between AA Chattanooga and AAA Rochester (52.2 innings) this year. Perhaps more impressive, he's struck out 84 men in those 52.2 innings with just 15 walks.

I don't know what to expect from him. His stats for this year say he deserves the opportunity. His track record over the previous nine years doesn't necessarily agree.

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No corresponding move has been made yet; my assumption is that Randy Rosario will be demoted, but that remains to be seen. The Twins won't bring Jorge Polanco off the bereavement list until they return to Minnesota after the weekend; the shortstop is in his native Dominican after the death of his grandfather. Kennys Vargas is back with the team for now. So there are roster moves ahead.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Contemplating Matt Belisle

Tyler Duffey got seven outs on Wednesday, so he wasn't going to be used Thursday short of another 15-inning marathon. That meant that, when Paul Molitor needed a reliever in the seventh inning Thursday, the manager had to step out of his bullpen comfort zone, which is to go Duffey-Taylor Rogers-Brandon Kintzler.

Matt Belisle entered, faced three hitters, got three outs (and his 10th hold). Then came Rogers and Kintzler.

Belisle has surrendered 17 earned runs in 20.1 innings, a decidedly sour 7.52 ERA. Dick Bremer talked about how a "couple" of bad outings wrecked his ERA, probably for the season, and indeed it's been a handful of disasters -- five earned runs in two-thirds of an inning on April 26, six earned runs in one-third of an inning on May 7, three earned runs in one-third of an inning on May 29. That's 14 earned runs in 1.1 innings, which means he allowed three runs in the other 19 -- a 1.42 ERA.

Belisle, who turned 37 on June 6, is a nursery rhyme reliever. When he's good he's very very good, but when he's bad he is horrid.

He's pitched in back-to-back games four times this year, and twice has gone six days between outings. Duffey, in comparison, has gone back-to-back only twice and has only once gone even five days without work. Eighteen of Belisle's 24 outings have come in the eighth inning; Duffey has come in after the seventh only once, in the notorious 15-inning loss on May 28 that is an outlier in a lot of ways.

As I've noted before, Molitor seems to like using Duffey two innings at a time, which limits his availability. Belisle has gone more than one inning just once, in that 15-inning game on May 28. The most recent of his disaster outings came the next day, and I suspect that Molitor may reasonably discount that game in gauging his confidence in Belisle.

I have tended to view the Twins bullpen as three guys Molitor trusts and four (or five) he doesn't, but Belisle may be a fourth that Molitor trusts, just in a different way than he trusts Duffey. Duffey gets longer outings; Belisle gets later ones.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Another pitching staff shuffle

Another series of roster moves Wednesday for the Twins, none of which involved Randy Rosario:

  • Right-handed pitcher Nick Tepesch, who had been on the Triple A disabled list but occupied a spot on the 40-man roster, was released.
  • Left-handed pitcher Hector Santiago was placed on the 10-day disabled list and was to return to the Twin Cities to have his throwing shoulder examined. This opened a spot on the 25-man roster.
  • Right-handed pitcher Chris Heston was claimed on waivers from the Los Angeles Dodgers. He inherits Tepesch's spot on the 40 and Santiago's spot on the 25 (and presumably Santiago's rotation berth, although I don't know how stretched out he is).

Heston never actually pitched for the Dodgers; they claimed him on waivers from Seattle on May 26 and almost immediately tried to get him through waivers themselves. He did make one three-inning appearance for their Triple A club.

All I really know about Heston is that he spent the 2015 season in the San Francisco rotation, making 31 starts and throwing 177-plus innings with a 12-11 record and 4.15 ERA but also including a no-hitter (June 9 against the Mets in New York). He's 29 and has six major league appearances total the past two seasons.

I'm not counting on much from him. Remember, the Dodgers just picked up Jason Wheeler from the Twins; presumably the Dodgers prefer Wheeler to Heston, and the Twins just jettisoned Wheeler. We are, again, dealing with marginal pitchers.


Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Rethinking Randy Rosario

Randy Rosario's promotion to the majors was warmly greeted in this corner of the internet. It was also warmly greeted, it appears, by American League hitters.

Rosario's ERA after his outing Tuesday (0.1 inning, 4 hits, 5 runs) is 30.86. The decimal is not misplaced.

Despite Bert Blyleven's commentary, Rosario's fastball-slider combo is adequate for relief work. That's what Glen Perkins threw in his glory days; changeup not required.

The problem is less what Rosario throws than where he throws it. On Tuesday night in Seattle, he had no command. Perkins the All-Star threw quality strikes; Rosario is not there yet.

It won't be a surprise if Rosario gets shipped back to the minors soon. Doing so may be a reflexive reaction, but so is pulling your hand from a hot stove. On the other hand, what's the alternative? A fourth call-up for Drew Rucinski? I'll pass on that.

I'd still rather see somebody with Rosario's talent struggle in the majors than somebody with lesser talent struggle in the majors. One question is what best helps the major league team; I'm not sure replacing Rosario with a body from Triple A does that. The other is what best develops Rosario. He's certainly getting more of a challenge in the majors than he has in Double A.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

You gotta know when to hold 'em

The hold is an unofficial stat designed more than 20 years ago by STATS Inc. to be for set-up men what the save is for closers. (I believe part of the motivation was a now-defunct fantasy game STATS offered at the time.)

The hold shares many of the same flaws as the save, but has one significant difference: managers don't run their bullpens to maximize holds the way they do saves. But like the save, the hold is completely subject to managerial discretion. I look at the figure less as to evaluate the pitcher and more to evaluate the manager. Which pitchers in his bullpen (other than the closer) does the skipper entrust with leads?

This is particularly of interest with the 2017 Twins, because Paul Molitor came into the season talking about not having standardized roles in his bullpen. In truth, Brandon Kintzler is closing. But there does seem to be a good bit of flux between the starters and Kintzler.

Here's everybody (other than Chris Gimenez) to have pitched in relief for the 2017 Twins and their holds:

Taylor Rogers, 13 (and 1 "blown save", or lost lead)
Matt Belisle, 9 (1 lost lead)
Tyler Duffey, 4 (0 lost leads)
Ryan Pressly, 4 (0 lost leads)
Craig Breslow, 0 (one lost lead)
Kintzler, 0 (15 saves, 2 lost leads)
Justin Haley, 0 (1 save, 0 lost leads)
Michael Tonkin, 0 (0 lost leads)
Buddy Boshers, 0 (0 lost leads)
Adam Wilk, 0 (0 lost leads)
Randy Rosario, 0 (0 lost leads)
Alex Wimmers, 0 (0 lost leads)
Drew Rucinski, 0 (0 lost leads)
Jason Wheeler, 0 (0 lost leads)

Kinda striking, isn't it? Haley's save was the almost obsolete three-inning type in a blowout and Breslow's blown save came during that disasterous series against the Astros when the bullpen disintegrated,  In reality, for all the shuffling of bodies in the Twins bullpen, Molitor has used only five guys to protect leads, and one of them has been demoted.

That Matt Belisle is, by this measure, one of Molitor's more trusted late relievers is ... startling.




Monday, June 5, 2017

The bullpen and facing Pujols

It worked, but I really didn't like very much about how Paul Molitor handled the Twins bullpen in the eighth inning Sunday.

Jose Berrios gave the Twins six innings and got a 3-2 lead to the seventh inning. Tyler Duffey entered and threw a 1-2-3 inning, turning the Angels lineup over.

Duffey has frequently worked two innings at a time, and I expected that to be the case again Sunday. But those two-inning outings are generally the sixth and seventh, not seventh and eighth, and the Angels had left-handed hitting Kole Calhoun leading off the eighth and another left-handed hitter, Luis Valbuena, scheduled third.

So Molitor brought in Taylor Rogers, his favored lefty reliever. I didn't care for this move, in part because Calhoun had already homered off Rogers (and off fellow lefty Adalberto Mejia) in the series, and in part because Duffey is just a better pitcher than Rogers.

But Molitor went for the platoon advantage. Rogers fell behind Calhoun and walked him. Then Rogers got Yunel Escobar to ground into a force out.

And here came Albert Pujols to pinch hit for Valbuena. And Molitor went to the pen for Matt Belisle.

Again, I didn't care for this move. The basic truth is, Pujols in 2017 should not scare an opposing manager. I know that's sacrilegious, but as I said in the Monday print column, Pujols at age 37 is a shadow of his greatness. And he is doing almost nothing against left-handers (slash line vs. southpaws .186/.255/.302).

Rogers hasn't allowed a homer to a righty this year. Belisle is averaging a home run allowed every six innings. If you looked for the matchup in the Twins bullpen most favorable to Pujols, Belisle is probably the pick. I wouldn't have had Rogers in the game to start with, but once in I wouldn't have pulled him for anybody by Brandon Kintzler.

So, naturally, Pujols hit the second pitch he saw on the ground to third for an easy double play (he has bad feet and can't run).  Kintzler got the ninth and did his thing, and the Twins won.

As I view that inning, Molitor steadily deceased the competence of the pitcher and worked unfavorable matchups. He used four relievers in the game, and the two best relievers faced the weakest hitters, while the two weakest bullpenners faced the middle of the Angels lineup (with Mike Trout injured, that's not saying much, but Calhoun/Escobar/Valbuena/Pujols are still better than the other stiffs).

I didn't like any of it. But it worked.